PART 3, CH. 1) – The Boy Strager: A free novel (Can you spot the allegory…er, the metaphor…er, both?)

         A few moments later mother came and stood next to the boy in the doorway of the room with the hole.  She pushed him back gently with her arm and told him that she wanted to close the door to the room.  She told him that since they didn’t have the money to fix the hole, closing the door to the room was the best they could do.  Soon, she said, father would sell enough hats that they could hire someone to repair the roof.  Maybe he’d even sell enough so that they could buy a new house.

            “Somewhere closer to town, perhaps,” she said.  “Away from the watching mountain.”  Mother sounded uncomfortably suspicious, and the boy didn’t understand.  The hundreds of marching and watching eyes in Richmond never seemed to bother her, when the lines of immaculate blue soldiers filed past their row house with their glistening, silver bayonets against their shoulders pointing threateningly towards the sky.  She would open the curtain in the bedroom and stare back at them until they rounded the corner.

The lines of soldiers were as big as any mountain, the boy thought, and yet mother would stare back at them with a calm, resigned look on her face.  But out by the ranch house in South Dakota there was nobody.  No hoards of blue soldiers marching past; just one lonely, cold mountain in the distance.  Yet she seemed troubled.

            “Can I have this room, mother,” the boy asked.  He remembered the moon in the window of his bedroom in Richmond, and didn’t mind being watched by the moon, or the mountain or the sky.  With the hole, he could stare back at the moon even longer at night than he used to.  And besides, didn’t Lucy tell him he should appreciate the thinness of the walls, and everything new in South Dakota?  He’d never had a room with a hole in the roof before.

            Lucy came up behind them as mother was closing the door, and before mother had a chance to answer the boy, Lucy spoke.  She was no longer crying.  Her eyes were not even red anymore.

            “Oh, what a marvelous idea, Jason!  It will be just like sleeping outside in our new place!  I think I must surely envy you a little bit.  How can you ever forget where you are when you wake up and see the sky of South Dakota above you?  I’m afraid I will wake up in the middle of the night and still think I’m in Richmond.  I wish I had chosen this room first, but I guess you’re the lucky one, Jason. You see?  Already your imagination is getting better!”

            “I think you will freeze, Jason,” mother said.  “And I think you’ll have to tread water when it rains.  And you will never get a break from South Dakota, not even in your bed at night.”

            “No, I like this room, mother.  I have many blankets, and I’ll move the bed to the side so that I’m not directly under the hole.  I like this room.  It gives me something to think about besides Richmond,” the boy said.

            “Rain from the ceiling!” Lucy said. “What a lovely thing! Waterfalls and stars!  Waterfalls and stars!  Why, it will be like you are part of the fields and hills and flowers of South Dakota!  And if it rains, you will wake up even taller than the night before!”

She giggled.

            Mother said, “But what about the candle you like to keep next to your bed?  I think you’ll have trouble keeping it burning in here.  This room seems dreadfully drafty.”

            “Well, the hole is a place for the moon, I suppose,” the boy said.  “There will be light.”

            Mother shrugged.

            “If you want to sleep in here then I have nothing against it,” she said.  “I don’t know what your father will think, but it’s best if we don’t bother him about this right now. When he settles in at the store and begins to sell enough to make him happy, then we can tell him.”

            “Of course, mother.”

            “You are seventeen and can do what you want.”

            “Yes, mother.”

            Mother sighed and pressed her hands against her pulled-back hair and smoothed it.  Then she straightened and smoothed her dress, and adjusted it slightly at the bust.

            Mother said, “Now I must go and help your father unpack.  He wants me to pick out the hats for the window of the new shop.  You two can come and help, or you can stay and unpack your own things; whatever you choose. Later you can bring in some wood, Jason, and we can light a fire in the fireplace.  Hole or no hole, this house seems very greedy for heat, even though it’s not yet the middle of October.”

***

            A few hours later the great trunks were unpacked and father had chosen the hats he wanted displayed in the shop window.  He was now in the kitchen having tea, and mother was putting the linens on the bed in the main bedroom.  Lucy and Jason were sitting in front of the fire place where a small flame shyly crackled.

            Jason asked his sister about father’s shop, and many other things, too.  He asked her if the moon was brighter in South Dakota than it was in Richmond, and how far away the mountain was and if it was further than it looked, and if it was dark and shadowy by nature or if the sky gave it that color and made it look that way.  He asked her what she thought of cows and horses, and where he should put his bed, and whether or not he did the right thing in picking the room with the hole.  He asked her if the war in Richmond was a good war or a bad one and if she thought it was right that Richmond fell the way it did.

            Then he sat back and listened to her answers, enjoying the warmth of the fire.  All of her answers were bright, coming at him more like flashes of light than like words.  Like the popping of muskets.

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